by Warren Rappleyea
What do to the Ottawa Junior Senators do after winning two successive Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) and Fred Page Cup championships do? The answer is simple, aim for a third of each.
“That’s always the goal here,” said GM/Coach Martin Dagenais during training camp. “We want to win championships, but it does get harder every year. This is a tough, competitive league and everyone is going to be looking to play well against us. It’s a challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
Since Dagenais took over the team in the 2014-15 season, Ottawa has joined the Carleton Place Canadians as one of the league’s dominant teams. A year ago, Dagenais’ team got out of the gate slowly and improved as the season went along. By the time the season ended, the Junior Senators were like a freight train traveling at full speed.
The Junior Senators closed out the regular season with eight straight wins to finish second overall behind Carleton Place. Ottawa went then went 12-2 in the Bogart Cup playoffs and 4-1 to capture the Fred Page Cup. The three games they lost during this incredible run were all by a single goal. OJS went on to reach the semi-finals of the National Junior A Championship.
“A lot of things had to go right for us along the way and they did,” Dagenais said. “We had guys stepping up and showing great improvement. We were able to overcome some injuries. We had great leadership. It just all came together.”
The Junior Senators will enter this season without several key players from last year’s squad, including captain Darcy Walsh (33 goals, 31 assists), now at Robert Morris University; alternate captain Elie Boulerice (24, 40), who is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa; in-season acquisition Geoffrey Dempster (13, 19 for Ottawa), now at Lakehead University; defender Adrien Bisson (7, 21), now at the University of Maine; and goaltender Francis Boisvert (31-11-3, 2.19 GAA), who recently committed to St. Lawrence University.
“We’re going to miss those guys, no question,” the GM/Coach said. “We only have six guys coming back, but we only had eight last year. We’re confident that the guys we’ve got coming back are ready to step into leadership roles. ”
Key returnees include forwards Owen Cole (23 goals, 38 assists) and Conor Smart (17, 15), who should provide scoring punch. On the backline Bailey Brant (1, 12) and Faisal Alsaif (5, 11) both return for another campaign in front of the Ottawa net. Josh Ward (12-5, 2.51 GAA), the backup goalkeeper last year, is expected to be the mainstay in net.
Dagenais credited his scouting staff as well as his Associate Coach Jamie Mayo for identifying and recruiting a strong group of players, who are talented, smart and able to adapt to the Junior Senators’ style of play.
“We don’t promise players ice time,” The Ottawa bench boss said. “Most of the time when we recruit players we don’t know where they’re going to fit in. We look for guys who are willing to come in and play a role and who work hard at both ends of the ice. It’s not all about scoring points. It’s about playing the right way. When that happens, the team wins and the players get noticed and move on to Division I hockey.”
Dagenais added, “Some of the guys we recruit might actually play a bit more somewhere else. They come to us because they want to win and improve as players.”
That is hugely important because Dagenais and his staff are committed to competing every night, playing at a high pace and employing four lines.
“This is a very balanced league,” he continued. “Having been a top team, our biggest challenge is that we’re going to get the best from every team we play. It gets even tougher in the post-season. You can’t win in the playoffs without four good lines.”
Like last season, it may take some time for the team to gel as the coaching staff works new players into the lineup and determine the lines and defense pairings that work best.
“We’ve developed a reputation as a team that steadily improves and peaks for the playoffs,” the GM/Coach said. “Other teams are aware of this and I think it’s an advantage for us.”
Ottawa’s success has also resulted in an opportunity for Dagenais to lead the Team Canada East team at the World Junior A Championships in Dawson’s Creek, BC, this December. This will keep him away from the Junior Senators for about three weeks or so.
“I’m surrounded by great coaches and we work together as a team,” Dagenais said. “I know the Junior Senators will be in good hands with Jamie (Mayo) and our coaches in charge.”
“It’s an honor to work with Hockey Canada and I’m very proud to be part of it,” said Dagenais, who served as a Team Canada East assistant for two of the past three years. “It will be fun and challenging because Team East has not been doing well in recent years. We’d like to reverse that trend.”